Carloforte, where tuna comes from

We recently heard the news that the Mediterranean red tuna no longer risks extinction after years of uncontrolled fishing. There are two reasons why this is good: the first is that red tuna is a fixed part of our food culture and the second is that good governance and a medium-term vision can redeem even the worst situations.


The story of Carloforte shows Italy at its finest. The fishermen of Pegli, near Genova, moved to Tabarka in Tunisia to catch coral. While the reasons why aren’t entirely clear, it seems that granting the use of the Bay of Tabarka had something to do with the freeing of the evil pirate Dragut from Doria. It was 1540 and the Tabarka coral reefs had been used and abused for a couple of centuries, while the Genoese culture blended with the Tabarkan customs, creating an impressive melting pot that would remain in their genes.


In the mid-1700s, the Genoese upped and left, probably because the coral had been exhausted, taking everything away with them. But they didn’t go back to Genoa. Instead they settled on San Pietro, at the time an uninhabited island southwest of Sardinia, founding Carloforte. A take on Genoese dialect is still spoken there today and the buildings appear to follow the model of Liguria’s coastal villages. In this Tabarkin summary of Ligurian and Tunisian cuisines, red tuna started to be fished, which appeared there in plentiful shoals during the warming spawning days. This is the time when the tuna, swollen with hormones and driven by the instinct to reproduce, goes looking for the right place for spawning, following the currents of the Mediterranean.


The tuna fishing village of Carloforte grew to such an extent that it became a town, with hundreds of employees who worked huge tuna fish measuring more than three meters, causing tuna to be added to Carloforte’s already complex food culture, making it one of the most interesting examples of fusion food in Italy.


Now the tuna village is idle in Carloforte, like everywhere, made unprofitable by deep sea fishing tools. But seeing the place is like going back in time, leaving us stunned by its beauty and eliciting feelings of nostalgia. Wandering around the abandoned buildings, scrap metal and nets, it’s almost as if we can still hear the shouts of the raìs (the head tuna fisherman) and the “tonnaroti” fishermen, as well as the din of the huge tuna fish caught in the last net. These cruel moments of a buried age now seem needlessly bloody. But we have learned that tuna fishing can be done in a cruelty-free way.


Let’s go and visit Carloforte, an open-air history book.